Soka University Learning Cluster 2013: Sustainable Housing and Urban Development in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Time-lapse video of the construction of the adobe studio

The process of building your home will be one of the greatest, and hopefully, most rewarding challenges in your life

Lisa Schroeder and Vince Ogletree authors of Adobe Homes For All Climates


Why have homes become unaffordable for most people in the world? Is it due to the cost of land, the price of construction, property taxes, and/or public services? Why must one hire an architect or an engineer when, with limited training, one can build a home by hiring just a few workers? This Learning Cluster will explore ways in which many people in the developing world have built houses with reclaimed, environmentally sound and aesthetically pleasing materials. We will also explore the connections between this type of sustainable, accessible development and links to the concept of leading a self-sufficient mortgage-free and debt free life.

While earthship style sustainable adobe homes are fast becoming trendy in many parts of the developed world, this type of construction has long been practiced in Argentina. Indigenous communities built their homes with adobe; many of them are still standing in the Northern part of the country. Pioneer adobe builder Jorge Belanko, mentored by Professor Gernot Minke, founder of Earth Architecture, has committed his life to building adobe houses in the south of Argentina and to teaching others the simple construction methods. Belanko produced a well-known didactic documentary film that demonstrates the different techniques in earth building. He argues in Las manos, el barro, la casa that since the 1930s, construction with earth has been deemed to be for "poor" people; that a whole business was built around the concept that "hard materials" like concrete, are longer lasting, more elegant, and more valuable. Belanko, is one of many Argentines, redeeming an indigenous building practice that is cost-effective, easy to accomplish, environmentally sound, aesthetically pleasing, and safe. Earth building as demonstrated by the interest in Belanko’s work, is particularly popular in countries like Argentina where building materials are expensive.

Increasingly people when building homes demand energy-and cost-effective buildings that emphasise a healthy, balanced indoor climate. They are coming to realise that mud, as a a natural building material, is superior to industrial building materials such as concrete, brick and lime-sandstone. Newly developed, advanced earth building techniques demonstrate the value of earth not only in do-it-yourself construction, but also for industrialised construction involving contractors. 
Gernot Minke

Purpose of the Learning Cluster

This Learning Cluster will examine the social, economic, and environmental problems of housing and urban development in Buenos Aires, one of Latin America's most populous cities, and ways in which sustainable adobe construction is being positioned by many as a possible solution. Since the 1970s, metropolitan areas in Latin America have grown dramatically, as has the income inequality between the wealthy and the poor. Slums commonly referred to as villas miserias, have increasingly become perilous ways for the poor to gain access to housing. In the last decades, the wealthy, in part influenced by unrelenting media stories about crime and insecurity have moved to the suburbs to build luxurious homes in gated communities. Conversely, slums like the well-known Villa 31 in Buenos Aires continue to expand, presenting their own sets of complex environmental issues. By analyzing ways in which sustainable housing can safely and efficiently modify the living standards in the slums, this course will assuredly transform the skepticism about sustainable housing and provide for a more educated approach to urban development in Latin America. Urban transformation has had profound cultural, social, and political consequences for society at large.

During the first part of this travel course, we will study the rich architectural history of Buenos Aires, once considered to be the "Paris" of Latin America because of its neoclassical
buildings and wide boulevards. We will consider the decisive historical events that have shaped its urban identity. We will visit traditionally wealthy neighborhoods like Barrio Norte, working class neighborhoods like La Boca, and neighborhoods that are currently experiencing rapid transformation due to a real estate boom like Palermo Soho, Palermo Hollywood, and Puerto Madero. We will also visit the politically charged Villa 31, a slum that was built in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods of the city. Mercedes Maria Weiss, professor of art-history and architecture at the University of Buenos Aires, will lead seminars on urban history and development for our LC. The objective of these seminars will be to understand the economic and political forces that have ordered and regulated the construction of neighborhoods and housing along economic lines.

During the second part of the course, we will travel to Ingeniero Maschwitz, in the Northern part of the city, and participate on an eco-construction team with plastic artist Pablo Salvadó, whose work was exhibited in the Soka University Art Gallery in 2008. We will participate in helping to build a sustainable adobe building. This building will eventually be completely self-sufficient and off the electricity, water and sewage grid.

Students will have hands-on experience in the design and construction of a low-impact natural building that requires little training in construction. Students will form teams according to their interests. These teams will be coordinated by Professor Crowder-Taraborrelli:

* a design team ( which will draw plans for the structure of the building)

* a budget team (which will calculate costs for purchasing equipment and materials)

*an environmental and services team (which will asses the resources available in the area, design and install electricity and water access)

* a building team (which will coordinate the field work)

The building workshop will run from 9A.M.-5 P.M. Plastic artist Pablo Salvadó will provide all materials and tools. Among the many skills students will learn during the workshop on earth building are: laying out a rock foundation and perimeter drain, building small and medium size walls with discarded car tires, mixing adobe and plastering walls with adobe (clay), and participating in the design of a sustainable garden. In order to capture this experience, the students will create a short documentary (10-15 minutes) to be presented at the Learning Cluster Fair. This short documentary will help to educate SUA students about the practical, structural, and societal effects of living a sustainable life, as well as the positive effects on the environment and humanity.

Residence in Phoenix, Arizona. Built with rammed earth walls. Architect: Eddie Jones

Course Objectives

1.Gain a deeper understanding of the significance of sustainable living where environmentally stable housing and financial security is under threat.

2. Research the process and practice of sustainable construction using both recycled and natural resources.

3.Perform a comparative study between southern California and the province of Buenos Aires in regards to property management and building permit regulations where sustainable construction is concerned.

4.Critically analyze the contrasting architectural styles as well as the use of materials among affluent and impoverished communities.

5. Create meaningful relationships between the group and organizations in Argentina dedicated to building sustainable homes.

6. Facilitate discussions that encourage social change through community activism.

Learning Outcomes

Team building; experience hands on learning; production and construction of a documentary.

As the universal movement for sustainable living collects momentum, the students of this Learning Cluster will have a much more expansive and tangible understanding of what it takes to bring the theory of sustainable living into practice. By visiting and exploring wealthy and poor neighborhoods alike, students will gain knowledge of both the materials and resources that have been utilized, in a highly contrasting way, to create the city of Buenos Aires. Students will aspire to achieve the following learning outcomes in a variety of ways:

Develop students’ habits of independent inquiry and study: Prior to leaving for Argentina, all students will form research teams and present their findings to the rest of the class. The documentary aspect of the project in Argentina will provide another avenue for independent growth, as students will be able to develop their own questions to be asked in interviews as well as organize visual material to complement the pedagogical objectives of the Learning Cluster.

Engender analytical and investigative skills and the ability to apply them to a specific problem or question: During their first week in Argentina students will develop questions and expectations based both on their own research as well as research presented by their classmates. During the second and third weeks, they will combine this research with firsthand experience in order to understand how to bridge the gap between theory and practice.

Enhance the ability to work collaboratively: Students will be working together to organize the trip, develop the documentary interviews, divide the subject matter, and create a cohesive final project. They will also have to develop a steadfast work ethic to include all team members, both domestic and international, who will be collaborating and contributing to the success of the project. The experience in its entirety will require students to depend on each other’s skills, including Spanish speaking abilities, different cultural understandings, and creative writing talents.

Foster a contributive ethic by working on issues that have a larger social significance or meaning: The creation of sustainable housing not only benefits the immediate community and the environment directly, but also ripples out to provide an alternative way to build a house for people who cannot afford the standard industrialized, corporate approach to building. Our documentary will further contribute to spreading awareness about the feasibility of and access to resources for this type of construction.

Prepare students for their roles as engaged global citizens: Through personal encounters, new experiences, hands on creation, community collaboration, inquiry into government regulations, critical evaluation of materials and resources, and an overall objective of contributing to the sustainability of humanity, this experience in Argentina will help deepen the understanding of what it means to be a global citizen.

Impact on SUA Community

Upon return, students from this Learning Cluster will attempt to impact the SUA community in an innovative manner that will shed light upon the environmental inquiries that are still very much alive on-campus. Once we learn the techniques of building an earth structure, we will be able to impart this knowledge to those who are willing to learn and take action. Bringing awareness of our LC project to the SUA community will allow for a gradual shift in the way our generation perceives sustainable living in the United States, and especially, in Orange County. Understanding, for instance, the implications of renewable and solar energy will help Soka students realize that we each have the capacity to push the “eco-friendly--go green” movement even further. This will instill a sense of pride in our students to contribute to the global community on an exceedingly prudent and moral level. These earth ships prove that humanity is capable of “doing more”. SUA can be one of the first campuses to realize the potential and effectiveness of these living standards.

Soka takes great pride in the Language and Culture Program. Close to 90% of our LC class is studying the Spanish language. By traveling to Argentina to experience the culture and life in Latin America, we can share our discoveries and challenges in working in another language with fellow students back home. We envision that this LC’s travel component will empower others to better their language skills by immersing themselves in a Spanish speaking culture.

Finally, the meaning behind the word “Soka”—to create value—is also tied into our LC’s belief that through the creation of sustainable living spaces, we can create value on our own. A home is one of the most quintessential parts of being human. Humans need shelter, and creating a home can both accomplish that goal and represent part of the human identity within society. By collaborating together as a team to build this sustainable living space, this LC re-defines what value means within the home. A home is not just composed of nails, wood and paint--it can be composed of matter that we recycle, of matter that is part of the earth we live on. Giving, instead of taking is what matters most in this paradigm for sustainable dwellings. We feel that such a message will resonate with the SUA community. Can value be created within a home? Why is it important to give back? These are some of the working questions that define our Learning Cluster.

Significance of Fieldwork and Location

While abroad, this Learning Cluster will study the architectural history of Buenos Aires, as well as construct a true realization of sustainable architecture. As sustainable architecture is still in its infancy, contributing to a fully self-sustaining housing project is a rare opportunity that can influence the current perception and future of sustainable eco-housing. The structure that we will leave in Argentina will be a unique and significant step towards a more sustainable world. It will advertise itself to the local community, but we plan to spread additional awareness through an instructional documentary. While much of our studies are for the course members, this endeavor is about proving that “off the grid” living is not only possible, but cost effective and feasible. We hope to inspire and instigate future architectural experimentation and innovation.

Buenos Aires is the heart and spirit of Argentina, and the focus of this LC. Touring the city and buildings in Argentina is vital in this critical study to decipher the distinct differences between communities within the city. Understanding Urban Development in Buenos Aires, Argentina plays a large role in understanding how sustainable housing can be successful in nearby communities.

This LC also seeks to analyze the architectural and aesthetic styles of housing in the city, in collaboration with a local non-profit institution called Techo. Like this LC, Techo advocates the importance of strengthening urban development on social policies in impoverished areas. More pertinent to this course, Techo builds an environment where sustainable communities exist in order to improve the quality of life for those who are struggling to survive in Buenos Aires and its surrounding neighborhoods. By gaining a deeper understanding of the area as the students travel to contrasting locations, they will be able to engage with the community members and discuss how they can help impact the community on the social and cultural facet of this study. What is really at risk here is that the public in Argentina lacks awareness about sustainable housing. This course will help them see that this is a cost-effective manner of living that is easily accessible.

The opportunity given to the students to travel to Argentina will profoundly affect the way in which these students comprehend the rapidly growing slums at a time in which an unstable and unforgiving economy exists for all. They are found in rural areas and as well as in populous cities such as in Buenos Aires. According to July 2004 estimates, there are about 640 precarious neighborhoods in suburban Buenos Aires, comprising of 690,000 residents and 111,000 households. The population of the villas miserias in the city of Buenos Aires property doubled during the 1990s, reaching about 120,000 as of 2005, which is continuously growing today. These statistics show how important it is to study the reasons behind not only how both slums, such as “neighborhoods of misery” and cities are built and where they are located, but also of laying the foundation for the causes and reasons for why they exist.

Vineyard Residence, Victoria Australia. Rammed earth walls. John Wardle Architects.

Itinerary, course reading and activities

Dates: Monday, January 7th- Wednesday, January 30th 2013

Week 1

Monday Jan. 7

9-12:00 pm GAN 209

Review syllabus with the class and course/objective overview. Assign group and/or individual research based questions and topics for course. Assign readings for annotated bibliography.
Evaluation of costs for purchasing equipment and materials. Update budget.
Discuss reading: Wilson, pgs. 1-55, Phillips 148-165 (Angel).
Start building blog/LC website for fair
Take picture of LC group (Charlie Kerhin)
In class training session to prepare construction of adobe structure.
Screening: Garbage Warrior

Tuesday Jan 8


9-12:00 pm GAN 209

Overview of history of urban development in Buenos Aires, Argentina since the 1970’s
Overview of sustainable housing in/around Buenos Aires, Argentina (Techo website)
Discuss Reading: Wilson, Part 1 and 3.
Continue working on website
Team tasks: Begin working on construction plan
Discussion of Garbage Warrior
Screening: Las manos, el barro, la casa 1st part

Wednesday Jan 9:


9-12:00 pm GAN 209

Each group presents on their group's objectives and planning.
Screening: Las manos, el barro.
Discuss documentary and its implications.
Discuss reading: Carns, Chapter 7 and Sanchez Chapter 1.
Continue working on website and construction plan

Thursday Jan 10


9-12:00 pm GAN 209

Go over the itinerary to make sure all activities are scheduled
Finalize construction plan and send it to Pablo
Continue building blog/website
Screening: Earthship-Britanny Groundhouse

Friday Jan 11


Saturday Jan 12


Meeting time TBA depending on flight arrival.
Reading: Phillips, Chapter 14 and 16. Teams discuss reading according to their team topic and assignment
Water, discuss reading: Ludwig, Chapter 7.
Meet with collaborating institution, Techo representatives and conduct short interview to better understand community development in the Buenos Aires region.

7PM: Daily Reflection

Sunday Jan 13:


9AM-12PM: Meet to prepare for week two and discuss travel and earth ship construction.

10AM-1PM: Architectural tour of the Center of Buenos Aires with Professor Weiss. Compare styles of construction and techniques with earth architecture and green building.

1PM-2PM: Lunch in San Telmo with Pablo Salvado

5PM: Meet at Tomas’ apartment. Teams present list of objectives and tasks during construction of earth building. Discuss reading: Minke, Chapter 2 and 3, Fryer Chapters 4 and 5.

7PM: Work on blogs on LC website. Upload photographs.

Week 2

Monday Jan 14:


9AM-12PM: City tour

12PM-2PM: Lunch

2PM-4PM: Design of earth building-teams offer suggestions for building techniques. Discuss readings: Schroder, Ogletree, Chapters 2, 3, 4, 5.

5PM: Meeting with plastic artist Salvado to discuss plans for earth structure. Demonstration of labor— how to utilize sustainable materials for successful building. Become familiar with materials as a group.

7PM: Daily Reflection

Tuesday Jan 15:

Un techo: meeting with members of NGO
12-2PM: Lunch
17:30 or 18:00 Meeting with Economist Alexis Dritsos.

Wednesday Jan 16:


8AM: Breakfast

9AM: Depart by bus for Ingeniero Maschwitz.

10AM: Arrive at location. Meet with plastic artist Pablo Salvado. Foundation work.

12PM: Lunch

1-5PM: Continue work on draining ditch and foundation. Discuss reading: Hunter Chapter 4.

5PM: Return to city.

7PM: Dinner

8PM: Daily Reflection on Angel. Teams meet to discuss progress of earth building.

Thursday Jan 17:


8AM: Breakfast

9AM: Depart by bus for Ingeniero Maschwitz.

10AM: Arrive at location

12PM: Lunch

1-5PM: Continue construction of on-site project. Wall, windows, draining.

5PM: Return to city

6PM: Dinner

8PM: Daily Reflection on Angel.

Friday January 18:


10AM: Arrive at location. Work on project with on-site architects.

12PM: Lunch

1-5PM: Continue construction of on-site project.

5PM: Return to city

6PM: Dinner

8PM: Daily Reflection on Angel.

Saturday January 19:


10AM: Arrive at location. Work on project with on-site architects.

12PM: Lunch

1-5PM: Continue construction of on-site project. Construction of walls, preparation of adobe.

5PM: Return to city

8PM: Daily Reflection

Sunday January 20:


10AM: Arrive at location. Work on project with on-site architects.

12PM: Lunch

1-5PM: Continue construction of on-site project. Walls, adobe, plastering.

5PM: Return to city

6PM: Dinner

8PM: Daily Reflection

Week 3

Monday January 21:


10AM: Arrive at location. Work on project with on-site architects.

12PM: Lunch

1-5PM: Continue construction of on-site project.

5PM: Return to city

6PM: Dinner

8PM: Daily Reflection

Tuesday January 22:


10AM: Arrive at location. Work on project with on-site architects.

12PM: Lunch

1-5PM: Continue construction of on-site project.

5PM: Return to city. Update on progress of documentary film.

6PM: Dinner

8PM: Daily Reflection

Wednesday January 23:


10AM: Arrive at location. Discuss Reading: Hunter, Chapter 5. Work on project with on-site architects.

12PM: Lunch

1-5PM: Preparation of roof structure.

5PM: Return to city

6PM: Dinner

8PM: Daily Reflection

Thursday January 24:


10AM: Arrive at location. Work on project with on-site architects.

12PM: Lunch

1-5PM: Continue working on the roof

5PM: Return to city

6PM: Dinner

8PM: Daily Reflection

Friday January 25:

ON-SITE Day 10

10AM: Arrive at location. Work on project with on-site architects.

12PM: Lunch

1-5PM: Continue working on the roof

5PM: Return to city

6PM: Dinner

8PM: Daily Reflection

Saturday January 26:


Sunday January 27:

6:30 p.m. Transportation to the airport

10:30 p.m. Flight leaves to the U.S.

Week 4

Monday January 28:

Arrive to the U.S.

Tuesday January 29:


10AM-12PM: Finalize any film editing needed.

1PM-3PM: Film finalizing continued.

Wednesday January 30:


10-12AM: Meet to discuss and launch our short film on YouTube.

1-3PM: Discuss our Learning Cluster Fair Presentation. (TBA)

End of Winter Block

*We will be filming throughout our Learning Cluster. The objective is to create a short film documentary (15-20 min) about our group and individual studies on Urban Development, Architecture, and Sustainable Housing in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

*In preparation for this Learning Cluster each student will choose individual topics to explore by themselves and in a team to prepare for a presentation.

Collaborating Institution


As mentioned in the itinerary, this cluster will meet with representatives of this non-profit organization to discuss the implications of sustainable housing for impoverished communities. Students will conduct a short interview to gain clarity on urban development policies in inner-city neighborhoods where most Techo volunteers work to improve the quality of life for members of each area. This organization maintains an exceptional standard that coincides with the objectives of the course.

Below, is a statement from the non-profit Techo:

TECHO pursues three strategic objectives: (1) The promotion of community development in slums, through a process of community strengthening that promotes representative & validated leadership, drives the organization and participation of thousands of families living in slums to generate solutions of their own problems. (2) Fostering social awareness and action, with special emphasis on generating critical and determined volunteers working next to the families living in slums while involving different actors of society. (3) Political advocacy that promotes necessary structural changes to ensure that poverty does not continue reproducing, and that it begins to decrease rapidly.

Vision: A fair and poverty free society, where everyone has the opportunities needed to develop their capacities and fully exercise their rights

Mission: Work Tirelessly to overcome extreme poverty in slums, through training and joint action of families and youth volunteers. Furthermore, to promote community development, denouncing the situation in which the most excluded communities live. And lastly, to advocate for social policies with other actors in society.

Works Cited

Carns, Ted.Off on Our Own: Living Off-Grid in Comfortable Independence: One Couple’s“Learn as We Go” Journey to Self-Reliance. N.p.: St. Lynn’s, 2011. Print.

Fryer, Julie. The Complete Guide to Water Storage: How to Use Gray Water and Rainwater Systems, Rain Barrels, Tanks, and Other Water Storage Techniques for Household and Emergency Use (Back to Basics Conserving). N.p.: Atlantic, 2011. Print.

Hunter, Kaki, and Donald Kiffmeyer. Earthbag Building: The Tools, Tricks and Techniques (Natural Building Series). N.p.: New Society, 2004. Print.

Low, Setha M. Theorizing the City: The New Urban Anthropology Reader. N.p.: Rutgers UP, 1999. Print.

Ludwig, Art. Water Storage: Tanks, Cisterns, Aquifers, and Ponds for Domestic Supply, Fire and Emergency Use--Includes How to Make Ferrocement Water Tanks. N.p.: Oasis Design, 2005. Print.

Minke, Gernot. Building with Earth: Design and Technology of a Sustainable Architecture. 2nd ed. N.p.: Birkhäuser Architecture, 2009. Print.

Phillips, E. Barabara. City Lights: Urban-Suburban Life in the Global Society. N.p.: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

Rock, David. Argentina, 1516-1987: From Spanish Colonization to Alfonsín. N.p.: University of California Press, 1987. Print.

Roy, Rob. Earth-Sheltered Houses: How to Build an Affordable Home. N.p.: New Society, 2006. Print.

Sanchez, Laura, and Alex Sanchez. Adobe Houses for Today: Flexible Plans for Your Adobe Home. N.p.: Sunstone, 2008. Print.

Schroder, Lisa, and Vince Ogletree. Adobe Homes for All Climates: Simple, Affordable, and Earthquake-Resistant Natural Building Techniques. N.p.: Chelsea Green, 2010. Print.

Sernau, Scott R. Social Inequality in a Global Age. Third ed. N.p.: Sage, 2010. Print.

Wilson, Jason. Buenos Aires: A Cultural History. N.p.: Interlink, 1999. Print.

Documentary films and instructional videos:

Earthship-Britanny Groundhouse

Garbage Warrior

El barro, las manos, la casa

Other possible resources for student research

Earth architecture

1. “Tips on Building an Adobe House” . This website has sections dedicated to different aspects of building an adobe home. One of the most helpful sections is titled “Adobe Bricks.” It has step by step instructions on how to make adobe bricks which essentially make up the structure.

2. Adobe Houses for Today: Flexible Plans for Your Adobe Home book for purchase: $27 .This book was mentioned in an article titled “Top Six Adobe House Building Plans and Manuals.” It covers plans for building an adobe house including many photographs and diagrams.

3. Adobe: Build it Yourself book for purchase: $29 This book was also mentioned in the article “Top Six Adobe House Building Plans and Manuals.” This one covers the building codes and energy requirements in building an adobe home.

4. “Adobe Building Systems” This website is titled “Adobe Building Systems.” On this particular link you will find what amounts to a power point on the basics of building an adobe home.

5. Sustainable Development in Argentina
Sustainable development in Argentina analyzes why, despite having an impressive endowment of renewable and non-renewable resources, Argentina has failed to maintain its relative global position in economic, social and environmental development in recent decades. The authors summarize the main environmental problems in the country and conclude that the current trend is not unsustainable development but unsustainable underdevelopment, with increasing damage to natural resources and ecosystems and a growing incidence of poverty.

6. Sustainable building and community organization technologies
Whilst much has changed in Argentina over the last four decades, housing remains a critical issue. Public housing schemes favor the construction of expensive homes that are accessible to few. There is an ever-growing need, therefore, to tackle the housing problem through a comprehensive approach that addresses housing, employment and local development. The Experimental Centre for Economic Housing/Association for Economic Housing (AVE/CEVE) is a non-governmental organization established over 40 years ago in the context of rapid urbanization. AVE/CEVE has worked to develop, apply and transfer a range of technical solutions to address various housing issues affecting low-income communities. Its approach encourages the active participation of residents throughout the process -- both in projects for housing construction and in technology transfer processes. AVE/CEVE has developed a number of technologies and systems that seek to ensure the efficient use of energy and water resources, including a compact toilet and sink unit which results in water savings of 20%.

7. Buenos Aires: Global Dreams, Local Crises by David J. Keeling
Buenos Aires is a city of fascinating contrasts. The most southerly of the world's great metropolises, it dominates the Argentine urban system, but is relatively isolated from the rest of Latin America and the global economic and political system. The archetypal elegance and sophistication of the Paris of the South is set against the problem of poor housing, social deprivation, and suburban sprawl. As Argentina struggles to maintain a democracy, the future stability of the region depends on how this vital, varied, and vulnerable city comes to terms with the need to restructure in the face of economic, environmental, and demographic crises. The book begins with an overview of the city's four-hundred-year history, which forms the basis for an examination of the contemporary urban landscape. This leads to an analysis of local politics in relation to planning and housing policies that is followed by a consideration of changes in the city's economic structures and an examination of Buenos Aires' national, regional and global transport links. The book then turns to a detailed look at the city's green spaces, environmental problems, and health care systems.

8. The Influence of the World Bank on National Housing and Urban Policies: The Case of Mexico and Argentina During the 1990s (Ashgate Economic Geography Series) by Cecilia Zanetta
Firmly grounded on her professional work, Dr. Zanetta’s academic research is aimed at building a bridge between practice and the world of ideas to ultimately improve living conditions in developing countries. During the past ten years, she has worked extensively on development projects in many Latin and Central American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras and Peru. Her main areas of interest include urban and housing policies, decentralization, public sector modernization and sub-national governments. Dr. Zanetta is an adjunct faculty member at the Department of Geography, University of Tennessee.

Student Biographies

Here each individual team member of the 2013 Argentina Learning Cluster will give a short summary about themselves and what they wish to gain from this rare and challenging experience.

    Alexandra Cline, Class of 2015
Although I was born in Santa Monica, California, I spent much of my youth on the East coast and also spent time traveling around the country with my family. Having seen many different cities and suburbs in the states, I found myself fascinated with architecture and its relation to culture. I often question the origin of certain styles or trends in architecture around the world-- from Gaudi to repetitive Orange County, Ca planned communities, all architecture has a history. With this learning cluster I hope to apply my passion for the art of cultural aesthetics to our task at hand (building a sustainable home), while simultaneously gaining knowledge about practicality/ sustainability vs. beauty and aesthetics.

Zoe Witt, Class of 2016:
Being a freshman this year at Soka, I am very lucky to be able to be a part of this unique and exciting learning cluster. I was immediately attracted to this learning cluster because of the opportunity to be able to be outdoors doing hands-on work. Previously, I had never considered the possibility of people today being able to live on their own, relying on the land, and all the environmental and financial benefits that will surely come about over time. I am excited to play around in the mud, working and coordinating with others, and seeing what we produce in the end.

Midori Komatsu, Class of 2015:

Believe it or not, I was actually born and raised on Dominican Republic, but my parents are Japanese. I am currently a sophomore at Soka and so far so good. Learning Clusters have been one of my favorite unique characteristics of my university. Students get to decide on a topic and usually involves traveling outside the country. Last year I was able to go to Panama and share a beautiful experience with my other classmates, so when I found out that I was going to have the opportunity to go to Argentina I was simply grateful and joyful for this chance. This cluster meant another new exciting experience. Not only the country of Argentina interested me, but also the topic of sustainable housing and such. Finding ways to be environmentally friendly has been a persistent issue for several years, and if we can find creative ways to aid our planet it is worth a shot.

Christian Mera, Class of 2015:

Although I've spent the majority of my life in Miami, Florida, I was born in Medellin, Colombia to Colombian parents, from distinct Colombian cities. I'm currently a Sophomore at Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo, California and feel extremely fortunate to attend such an incredible institution. My passions are futbol (Soccer), a future in the business field, and my family of course. This course interested me because of the different aspects involved such as the economics and environmental details to it. I've had the opportunity to travel to many unique parts of the world and can honestly say that Argentina is of the best so far. Having moved from Colombia to the U.S at an early age, I've had a much deeper appreciation of the Latin American culture which I can fairly relate to. I hope this project turns out as we initially hoped and would very much like to retell my experiences here in Buenos Aires.
Hector Castenada, Class of 2015:
I was born in the states but raised in Mexico. I am a Sophmore at Soka and this is my second Learning Cluster so far. Both of my Clusters have dealt with environmental issues so it would seem I am an environmentalist. This is partially true. I have always been a bit skeptical as to the practicality of the more extreme techniques people use to reduce their impact on the environment and have always been convinced that it is just not worth the effort. I am here in order to be convinced otherwise. While up until this point I am not a full believer (I enjoy my long showers and don't like the prius) I have definitely come to appreciate the benefits that an eco-friendly lifestyle grants, particularly the type of construction we are studying here. I can definitely see how these techniques could be utilized in a way that would be appealing to the mainstream community, which I believe would be the best course of action for the ecological building movement.

Andrew De Melo, Class of 2015:

My name is Andrew Daisaku de Melo, born in long island and raised in Florida. I was born into a family of artists, my mother is an abstract painter from Korea and my father is a Portuguese industrial designer who owned a successful prototyping firm in New York. As a child I spent hours taking apart and repairing anything I could find, and I became in love with creating my own inventions and designing more efficient products. I built upon my skills of design and prototyping by attending an arts high school for two years and finished high school focusing on physics and architecture at a boarding-prep school named Taft. Currently I attend Soka University of America to get a liberal arts degree with a concentration in Humanities.
I am obsessed with architecture, sustainable design and entrepreneurship. Over the past 5 years I have been studying architectural design, focusing on Japanese woodwork, Zen aesthetics, modular design through Metabolist architecture and ways to achieve these through the usage of sustainable building techniques. Because architecture requires much more resources and certifications to experiment with, I love to use my skills in 3d design and plastic modeling to create sustainable designs that are easily marketable and manufacture. My most recent project is a micro-aquaponics system for 10 gallon fish tanks. I am incredibly excited to work on this Learning Cluster, as it is a perfect combination of all my greatest interests. I hope to work as hard as possible to leave a lasting structure here in Buenos Aires, and to explore the architectural freedom that results from such radical building techniques!

Katy Fetters, Class of 2015:

Hello! I am from Huntington Beach, California and grew up in a fairly suburban community. Having this opportunity to work on this projects really ignites my interest in the idea of "suburbia" in the US versus privately owned property in Argentina. I originally joined this learning cluster because I really wanted to travel to a new culture while accomplishing something that would change my life. Tomas helped my vision come to life as we progressed into this grant writing and learning cluster process. I am in the Spanish program at Soka so I knew that traveling to Buenos Aires would help improve my communication skills on the local level.
My ultimate goal during our learning cluster is to truly understand the importance of sustainability and the effects on not only the environment, but on the quality and practicality of our lifestyle in an "earthship" type home. Because sustainability and urban development is something that is very controversial in the developed world, I would also like to further my understanding of government intervention in the building process on privately owned property and why the laws are so different from places like Argentina when it comes to building out of sustainable materials. I have no experience building any type of structure and I am excited to have this opportunity!
Claudia Ahumada, Class of 2015:

Hello! My name is Claudia Ahumada and I am currently a Sophomore at Soka. I am Mexican American and my parents are both from Mexico, my father from Guadalajara y mi mama de Puebla. I grew up speaking Spanish and learning English while attending school and living in an English speaking country. Having the ability to live in Argentina and utilize my Spanish has been a wonderful experience, especially because we are in the process of theorizing, learning, and thus practicing the methods and idea of sustainable housing. I am absolutely in love with finding ways to better make use of our existence in aiding mother nature, as well as helping those who cannot afford to live in the modern world that we do, which also applies to those who live in underdeveloped countries, this Learning Cluster has allowed me to explore just that.

Howee Wu, Class of 2016:
    Hello! I'm Howee! I am so grateful and excited having the opportunity to be in Argentina. I am a proud Taiwanese, born in the southern part of Taiwan. In 2000, my family and I moved to the United States. I cannot believe that 12 years passed already!!
    Anyways, I love to learn and explore. I enjoy singing, dancing, laughing, and most importantly, smiling. I am very positive and easy going. But what I want to get out of this L.C. is to explore different ways to build sustainability. Also, I am very interested in Latin American culture and learning about different ways of life. Buenos Aires is such an amazing place and I want to sincerely thank Tomas, my L.C. classmates / friends and Soka for funding my education to pursue learning across many national boundaries. Back to my spiel about nature. We need to start living one with nature. We need to give back to what mother nature gave us. I LOVE EARTH! So, Thanks for reading! :))
Jessica Delgadillo, Class of 2015:

The idea of exploring the concept of sustainable housing immediately caught my attention. Being from a typical suburban neighborhood in Orange County I have always noticed the blatant lack of regard for the environment in places such as this. Not only am I interested in exploring the possibility of creating a more eco-friendly environment in such a place as orange county, but also the possibility of sustainable housing for those who simply lack homes. This creates the possibility of killing two birds with one stone, in a sense, and working toward a solution in two areas that are severely in need of progress. As a liberal arts student at Soka CarUniversity, a concern for human rights as well as environmental rights are at the center of my education.I hope to gain a further and more well rounded knowledge of a topic, sustainable housing, that is rarely talked about and known in the United States and incorporate these concepts into my studies.

Tamara Siemering, Class of 2016:

My name is Tamara Siemering.  I am a freshman at Soka University.  I chose this learning cluster because I felt that it connected directly with the education I received from Waldorf schools.  The Waldorf curriculum introduced me to crafts such as handwork, woodwork and gardening.  I also learned how to build using cob, a material very similar to adobe while I was in high school.  My junior year, I helped build an oven and a bench made out of cob.  Another reason why I joined this learning cluster was for my love of nature.  I think it is important that everyone connects with and respects the nature that surrounds them.  Building one’s own home out of materials such as adobe is a more sustainable housing option, and makes for a rewarding experience.

Caroline Sell, Class of 2015:

My name is Caroline. I was named so due to my fathers passion for music. I was born in Boulder Colorado during a snow storm. I grew up in a very affluent community where the transition from a spiritually grounded community to spiritual materialistic individuals has changed the culture and unity of the Boulder Community. Spirituality in my life has brought both its pros and its cons. For the most part the cons have no influence except that it brings a hyper awareness to my understanding of the protestest and movements of the people; especially in regards to the environment and natural conservation. The concern for the planet, although completely respectable, in my opinion is the wrong way to look a the environmental movement. As I have come to understand it, saving the plantet is not the issue, the planet with survive; it is the salvation of humanity that is at stake.

With this learning cluster, I saw an opportunity to learn how to perserve both planet earth and its inhabitants. I hope to learn how to create a lifestyle that is both sustainable in construction as well as sustainable for humanity. Because I have been influenced and involved in these social movements through a spiritual base, I view social change as an opportunity to revive spiritual connection and understanding between the offerings of the earth and the willingness of human kind. I am looking forward to playing with mud and building a shelter.

Photo Essays

These photographs are chosen to showcase a few student's experiences during time spent abroad in numerous locations in, and outside of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Katy's Photo Essay

I chose these photos because they will remind me of all the feelings and thoughts I do not want to forget about this experience in the years to come. I want to share these photos with you, so you can see what I saw and so you can understand just how incredible the summer sky is below the equator, or how the graffiti becomes art... so you can see what is means for me to be alive in this crazy, artistic, and beautiful world. 

Alex's Photo Essay

My goal when coming to Buenos Aires was to really obtain a feel and understanding of the architecture. I wanted to capture the diversity I'd heard about, and I wanted to highlight the contrast of new and old, traditional and modern. What was surprising, though, was how I couldn't even pay attention to the architecture as I was fascinated by the people and culture, and infatuated with the street art. I found utter bliss within the use of color everywhere we went, from the buildings to the sidewalk, and the absolute emotion and energy that perpetuated from the people on the streets. I hoped to capture the vibrations of the color, and the emotion of the souls I shot on camera. What follows are what I produced from such inspiration.

Adobe/Studio Photos:

A compilation of photos from our work site, check out our progress!

Cultural and Architectural Photos: